Santa Marta, Colombian Caribbean
04.03.2011 - 07.03.2011 37 °C
A complete stranger comes up my behind and squirts his foam all over my face and body. He got me right in the eye! Phnnaarrrr… There I was, innocently strolling the streets minding my own business yet I got foamed on at least 4 times. I eventually gave up going back to the hotel for showers to get the stickiness off, cracked open an ice-cold Club Colombia beer, deciding to join the party and embrace it! This was the start of Carnival Colombia style.
You may remember I had left Rio before all the carnival stuff started, deciding to avoid all the hype, ridiculous room rates and tourist razzmatazz? I completely failed to realize though that the Colombian Caribbean also hosts one of the biggest Carnivals in the world after Rio! There really was no escaping it for me! I caught a little minivan from Cartagena to Santa Marta, after arranging to meet up with Barbera and Dirk in a few days at the next beach resort along. I am not sure what made me get off the bus when everyone else stayed on for the resort of Taganga. I guess I clocked the posters advertising the carnival yet was intrigued that there seemed to be only locals in Santa Marta so jumped off here and booked myself into a lovely little hotel.
Boy was it hot here! In most cities of this continent, there are billboards in the streets that also display the temperature. That day I arrived carrying my backpack through the streets one of the signs was registering 37 degrees and with the sea level humidity I was melting. That first sip of cold beer at the hotel, the welcome drink, took me to a different place; you must know what I mean? Straight into a hammock with beer number 2, surrounded by tropical plants and parrots. That is pretty much where I stayed during most of my time in Santa Marta. I had some nice company from a Canadian guy who was long-time travelling and working as a computer programmer from his laptop. Nice work if you can get it!
My first impression of Santa Marta was of a bit of a dirty, ugly place with a hint of seediness but my opinion changed completely when I got out there and met some of the locals. Colombians generally seem to get a bad deal with the international media telling us of the druglords and street violence but I was made to feel so welcome here. Easily the best thing about Santa Marta was the time around sunset, beautiful fiery Caribbean sunsets with the relief of cooling temperatures. The locals would all head down to the beach promenade and grab a beer and something to eat from one of the many street vendors and it would have been rude not to join them. Back in my element, enjoying more ‘Arepas’, the hot cheesy pancake things again, as well as all kinds of less familiar delights, ‘Arroz con leche’ a kind of milky rice pudding served from a flask off the back of a street vendors cart, absolutely delicious. Very few gringoes here so I felt special again and was getting a lot of attention!
The main carnival festivities in this area were taking part in Barranquilla about 2 hours drive from Santa Marta and famous for being the birthplace of Shakira!! I didn’t expect much to be happening in Santa Marta but I was in for a surprise. Following a carnival and dance procession through the streets, I ended up spending until the wee hours having foam fights with locals, being dragged into street salsa dancing ‘frenzies’ and this slightly jaded traveller ended up going to the ball even after all my efforts to avoid it!!